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    Reading Wednesday

    Reading Wednesday

    The Language of Flowers

    The Language of Flowers – A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    After a dry spell of good “page turners” I finally hit on some books that have pulled back into reading every day.  It helped a lot that I was sans internet for much of the time I was in Namibia.  When I can’t sit and stare at Facebook and Instagram then my Kindle gets a lot more use!  It’s a good thing.

    The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh was a great read.  I loved the story line, and as a gardener and lover of plants I really like the unique use of flowers in the story.

    Diffenbaugh takes you on a journey of the life of a girl, eventually a women, and her personal trials and tragedies as an un-adoptable foster child.  Victoria Jones finds herself unable to love or care for anyone, or allow anyone to love or care for her.  Her mistrust and loathing for every human she meets drives her to only love one thing – the language of flowers.

    At 18 years old Victoria is no longer a ward of the state and she finds her self living in a forest next to a park and surrounding herself with flowers, the only thing she feels emotionally attached to.  She finds a job in a flower shop and the florist recognizes her potential and helps her get on her feet.  Working in the flower shop Victoria realizes her natural talent for using the Victorian language of flowers to communicate messages for brides and other customers and soon she is an indispensable part of the shop.

    But Victoria’s pattern of running away from people who care for her continues and she finds herself leaving behind again, everything and everyone who shows they love and need her.

    The Language of Flowers is both a sentimental and emotional story of love lost and found, life’s up and downs, and the human spirit’s ability to open up and let go of fear and imagine a new life for themselves.  Five stars.

    Travel Around the World

    Namibia Part II

    Oh The Places You’ll Go

    Location: Namibia

    Namib Desert

    Namibia quickly became one of my favorite countries for its varied landscape, colorful cultures and interesting history.  So although I did not see the entire country, Namibia Part II is an opportunity for me to share a bit about what I saw and learned during my fascinating ten days touring with Wild Wind Safaris.  Namibia Part II – Oh the Places You’ll Go.

    Only a few years ago Namibia never showed up in articles or blogs about travel destinations.  But then all of the sudden there it was – stunning photos of dunes and mountains, animals and oceans.  Article after article listing it as a must see destination of 2017 or an out of the way place to see before the crowds of tourists discover it.

    The furthest south latitude at which the sun is directly overhead at the solstice.

    And so, I wanted to be there.  I wanted to see what few people had yet seen.  Namibia was high on my list.

    Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of tourists, and plenty of tour operators and companies to help you find your way (check out the company we used and were so happy with: Wild Wind Safaris).  But we didn’t meet any other Americans, and 99% of the tourists we met were German.  Germans know about this place and flock here, partly because German is spoken here as is English, Afrikaans and tribal languages.

    Most visitors come to go on safari in Etosha

    Magnificent

    National Park and it is a must of any visit to Namibia (see blog here).  Etosha is not even remotely as crowded as the safari I did seven years ago in the Serengeti with about a million other people.  Etosha was quiet and beautiful and amazing.

    Sociable Weaver nest can House up to 200 birds

    But a trip to Namibia really needs to include time to see and experience more than Etosha.  I’ve come away from the country with an even greater appreciation of the remarkable geology of our earth, and an incredible insight to the importance of preserving cultures and not just objects and nature.

    Our guide explains to Arne

    Until 1990 Namibia was part of South Africa (and from 1884 until after WWI it was a German colony).  Gaining its independence the country has embraced tourism but being such a new country it still has its share of problems.  Like many places we have been, government corruption takes much away from the average person and tribal cultures suffer.  But the roads were remarkably good (even though Namibia has the highest car accident death rate in the world) and the people we met (mostly in the service industry) were incredibly friendly both with each other and us.  In fact some of the friendliest and most genuine people we have met anywhere in our travels are the Namibians.  That really hit home.  We never felt like we were unsafe or being cheated in anyway – although warnings of pick pockets we took seriously.

    Himba women with mud hut

    Namibia has 13 ethnic groups scattered about the country and the native people identify with an ancestral tribe even if they no longer live in the region where that group is.  Our amazing tour guide “Seven” explained to us some of the differences and he could look at nearly every person and know immediately what ethnic group they were from.  Since we didn’t see the entire country we missed learning about most tribes, including the Owambo of the north, the tribe Seven is from.

    We did get to learn about two distinctive tribes – the Himba and the Damara as well as a little bit about the Herero, an offshoot of the Himba.

    Little Himba girl

    Using smoke to “wash” hair

    One of my favorite experiences of the entire ten days was our short visit to a special Himba village where we were able to meet Himba women and children.  Note the photos of these remarkable people.  These are not costumes.  This is the way they dress everyday.  The hair style is really remarkable, and a female Himba begins wearing this hairstyle at puberty.  The adornments are made partially of their real hair and animal hair and are updated every three months.  Because of the shortage of water in the north of Namibia where the Himba people are found, they do not bath with water.  Instead they daily “wash” their hair with smoke – literally holding their head as well as their underarms over a special perfumed smoke (similar to incense) that keeps bugs and (most) odor away.  They also cover their bodies daily with a mixture of butter and ochre as a cleanser and repellant, this is what lends the red tone to their skin.

    Me with ten-year old girl

    The village we visited was a special place because all the children here are orphans.  This is a place where Himba orphans are brought to be raised in the culture of their parents rather than being adopted out of the culture.  The women here care for these children as if they are their own and there is a school here too.  The people are sustained by raising goats and cattle and they have access to a well so water is available but their bathing customs remain the same.

    Damara village

    As we visited the women let us take photos and then they wanted to look at the photos on our phones.  They seem to very much like to see themselves in a photo.  The women’s first question to us was if we had children.  When we said we had grown sons they wanted to know if we had grandchildren.  When I said not yet they wanted to know why not?  Why had we not yet chosen wives for our sons?  My answer that our sons would hopefully marry someday and have kids didn’t seem to satisfy them.  Their entire existence and culture is wrapped around family, child-bearing and daily survival.

    Once again I am reminded of how many people live every day hand to mouth.

    Dancers at Damara village

    We did not visit a Herero village but these people endured near genocide by the Germans who wanted their land and intended to eliminate the Herero race to have it and the 1904 Battle of Waterberg ensued.  Half of the total Herero population was

    Herero Women

    killed. Luckily not all were massacred and today the women have developed a very unique dress that is a unique mix of Victorian gown and petticoat and a unique cloth headpiece that is designed to resemble the horns of a cow.  Today the Herero people continue a battle in court with the German government for retribution for all they lost during the genocide period.

    Damara man building fire

    Swakopmund pier

    The Damara people, the other tribe we learned about, are the oldest tribe in Namibia.  They came from the East and settled in the middle region of the country.   This tribe was primarily hunter gatherers and pastoral, raising cattle and sheep and living off the land. The Damara have an incredibly unique language known as “click” language.  The language uses a complicated system of mouth and tongue clicks and is very musical and fun to hear. The village we visited was a reproduction of how a village would have looked hundreds of years ago.  Where the Himba live in huts made from wood, mud and cow dung, the Damara live in huts made of wood and thatch.  The Damara dress was tied to the animals they raised creating clothing from

    Damara Medicine Woman

    sheepskins.  The women use ochre on their cheeks much like we use blush today.  Music and dance and making ornamental jewelry and carvings were a big part of their culture, where the women did domestic chores and the men tended the livestock.

    Cape Cross Fur Seal colony

    Pink Flamingoes in Walvis Bay

    The geology and scenery of Namibia is as diverse as its ancient people.  The incredibly beautiful red sand dunes of the Sossusvlei region are the oldest dunes in the world and the stark beauty of these dunes is remarkable.  The turquoise blue water of the Atlantic Ocean at Swakopmund in contrast provides visitors and locals a cool get-away from the heat of the interior.  Here on the Atlantic the fog settles every day and so do thousands and thousands of fur seals, flamingoes and other shore birds.  Local seafood is a treat including the KingKlip and Kabaljou two of the most popular and most delicious fish caught locally and served everywhere.

    Welwitschia plant

    Dolerite Dike

    From the ocean heading east within minutes you are back in the arid desert where the welwitschia plant grows – the only region in the world this unusual plant is found and growing as big as ten feet across and living as much as 2000 years I was reminded of Audrey Two in Little Shop of Horrors.  The inhospitable environment has little greenery and almost no animals except birds.  The valley of the moon and eroding  mountain range are desolate yet beautiful in their own way – especially the interesting dolerite dike a natural phenomenon of black sunburnt rock that runs along the ridge of the mountains like the spine of a dragon.  This area is home to the largest Uranium mine in the world.

    Ancient rock etchings

    ANcient rock etchings

    Namibia’s storage hunter-gatherers and Bushman (San) people were nomadic and traveled the country wherever the animals were.  Their history is written on stones in several regions and we visited two fascinating sights to learn more.  The Twyfelfontein site is today a UNESCO Heritage site in the Kuene region. Guides take visitors on a walking tour of the hundreds of rock etchings estimated to be several thousands of years old.  The etchings depict animals as well as human footprints and tell a story of the nomad life and the animals they followed for substenance.  It is thought this place was both a message board and a spiritual gathering place for thousands of years.

    “The White Lady” is the pale figure on the left

    More paintings

    Even more amazing though was the preserved painting of “The White Lady” estimated to be 6000 years old.  This painting is located in a very remote region of the Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s highest mountain.  It is a two mile hike to visit it.  Not as many people see The White Lady because the trek and the heat make it difficult.  I’m glad we endured it however in 100 degree temperatures.  Very different than the rock etchings, these paintings are preserved because they are inside a cave and out of direct sunlight.  Discovered in 1918 and now a protected heritage site, the White Lady is actually not a lady at all.  Early anthropologists believed it to be an Egyptian women, but today archeologist know it is a local tribal shaman, painted with the traditional white a shaman would have on his legs and body from dust and mud.  The painting includes other human figures and many animals all painted with ochre (red), egg, animals oils, charcoal and blood.  The painting has luckily withstood the test of time, although since its discovery humans have touched it and thrown liquid on it to try and see it better and this has deteriorated it.  Today though it is protected and can only be reached with a guide who makes sure no one does any damage to it.  It was a beautiful and remarkable world heritage site to enjoy.

    Moon landscape

    The Namibian people have a great deal to be proud of and I hope this beautiful country overcomes its problems and finds its strength in the world.  It has so much to offer, charm and beauty, history and culture.  I will never forget my time here and I can say with all seriousness it is by far my favorite African country of the seven I have been to.

    Thank you Namibia.  Thank you Wild Wind Safaris.  Thank you Seven for showing us your remarkable home.

    Travel Around the World

    Namibia Part I

    The Lion Sleeps Tonight

    Location: Namibia

    Once again I am astounded.  Astounded by a place I knew so little about.  I am so thankful we came to Namibia.  Incredible

    Good morning

    Namibia.

    I know only three people who have been to this country.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was open to the adventure I thought it would provide.  And I was not disappointed.  Only lightly touched by tourism, Namibia is an astonishingly beautiful place and if you have the means you should see it now – because it will change.  It always does.

    This is an Oryx

    There is so much to share about our ten days here, so I’ve decided two blogs are in order and I am starting with the most obvious and most well-known topic of Namibia – the Etosha National Park and the safari we did there.

    Why did the giraffe cross the road?

    I did a safari seven years ago in Tanzania with my son and sister, but this was a first for Arne and I really worried he might not get to see all the “big game” safaris are known for; elephants, zebras, lions, giraffes, rhinoceros.  I needn’t have worried.  Yes, we saw all of those and much, much more.

    I booked our tour of Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris about six months ago.  The tour was $4500 for the two of us for ten days.  We could have seen Namibia on our own without a tour guide, the roads (although often gravel) are very good and easy to get around.  But our guide “Seven” (a childhood nickname from his football number) provided us with what we learned to call “African eyes”, and the value of that can not be understated.  He knew the answer to all of my endless questions and if he didn’t, he found the answer and got back to me within in minutes.  He described

    With our guide Seven

    plants and geology, politics and population, and of course knew facts about animals and wildlife I would never possibly have known.  I highly recommend both Seven and Wild Wind Safaris if you want a great experience in Namibia.

    So this tour was an anniversary gift to ourselves and although definitely more than our usual $200 a day budget, it was worth every penny.

    At the watering hole

    The animals in Etosha National Park are varied and abundant.  The park has  supplemented the natural watering holes around Etosha with some manmade ones, providing constant water in this arid and hot environment.  This way the animals stay within the park boundaries and are protected and visible to the guests.

    There are still problems with poachers, who specifically target both the black and white rhinoceros in the park.  They kill the animals and then cut off their

    The beautiful and endangered black Rhinoceros

    horns which are then smuggled and sold in the Chinese market.  Although this is entirely illegal it is still a problem Namibia struggles with.  In fact park officials regularly sedate and cut off the horns of the animals to keep the poachers from killing them.  The horns grow back and are made of a material similar to fingernails so it doesn’t cause the animal pain.

    Hunting is against the law throughout Namibia (except on some private game hunting reserves), which has changed the culture of many hunter-gatherer tribes and some of the people are extremely poor.  But game is also farmed in Namibia and you will often find farmed

    Springbok are abundant

    game on the menu.  Oryx is very popular and tastes just like beef.

    With Seven’s guidance we spent our early morning searching for animals – a great time of day for successful sightings.  We then would return to the lodge and relax, maybe take a nap or lay around the pool, before heading out again for a late afternoon game drive.  You are not allowed to get out of the vehicle for any reason within the park, so having just Arne and I in the vehicle with Seven gave us lots of ability to view the wildlife and go everywhere in the park.

    Zebra is the favorite meal for the lions

    My photos tell the story of all the incredible creatures we encountered – but only to a point.  It’s hard to describe the thrill of moment and how sudden and spontaneous and unplanned it all can be.  So often it would just take your breath away.  Let me tell you about a few of my favorite moments;

    Our first early morning drive we set out with Seven feeling confident we would find lions.  We had been out for about two hours and with his “African Eyes” he spotted the three “boys” he knew were often in the area.  These lions cubs were about five months old, still young and cub-like but looking full-grown.  We watched them from a distance of about 200 yards trot and gallop purposefully across a field,

    Lion reunion

    ignoring all the animals they usually hunt in the area.  They were intent on one thing.  Mom.  She lay about 30 yards ahead of us on the road.  We positioned ourselves and watched in anticipation as the playful and loving reunion took place.  The boys happy to be back from whatever adventure they had been on – back with mommy.

    This same family we saw several times after that with the magnificent full-maned father (shown in the title photo) proudly watching over his pride.  We watched the mating process (in fact got it on video) and these animals truly seemed like a family.

    One of the five month old boys

    We saw many lions during the rest of our visit but other “cats” were elusive, until one afternoon.

    We were exploring several of the water holes in the car but hadn’t seen very many animals.  But we noticed that at one water hole the giraffes seemed a bit on alert, staring off into the brush.  We watched for a long time but nothing happened so just as we were rolling forward to turn around and leave I spotted a rhino coming out of the trees.  So Seven parked the car at an angle where I could get some good photos and we watched.  The rhino walked down to the water hole, but never drank – he turned and walked back to the woods.  This seemed curious and just then I noticed a lion alone on the other side of the waterhole.  “Seven there is a lion” I said.  He looked and nearly jumped for

    Hard to see from a distance but this is our leopard

    joy!  “That’s a leopard!” he nearly yelled.  “Oh my god a leopard and we are the only ones here at the watering hole!”  What a great moment that was.  The leopard, though too far to get a really good photo of, was so well camouflaged I couldn’t believe it.  He took his time drinking his fill and then quietly disappeared back into the brush.  Only then did the rhino return to enjoy his own cool drink.  A very rare sighting indeed.

    Spotting the endangered Black Rhino was one of my goals as this animal had eluded me when I was in Tanzania.  We actually saw many rhinos during our time in Etosha and they are huge, magnificent and very pre-historic looking creatures.  But two special moments stand out.

    As we were leaving the watering hole and chatting excitedly about our leopard encounter we came around a corner on the dusty gravel road and startled a lone

    The beautiful black Rhino at the watering hole after dark

    rhino very close to the road.  He didn’t like being surprised and he charged our car.  I’ll never forget the look on that gigantic creatures face as he lowered his head and charged, while Seven put the car in reverse and I fumbled to get my seatbelt on.  He snorted and stared us down but never actually hit the car.  Not an animal you want to mess with.  Seven told us because he had his head down and was feeding as we came around the corner we had frightened him.  Also, because of the poachers these intelligent animals have learned to be wary of vehicles and being snuck up on.

    Later that night Arne and I went to the watering hole near our lodge.  This hole is designed with night vision lighting that does not bother the animals, but allows people to view the animals from seats at a distance.  Every night we went to see what was happening at the watering hole, and on this special night a mama rhino arrived with a teeny little baby.

    Giraffe taking a sip

    Watching the two of them, never more than a few inches from each other, was a special sight.

    For as important as water is to all these animals, watching the effort it takes a giraffe to have a long cool drink is astonishing.  Giraffes cannot hold their head down for very long because it cuts off their blood flow.  It also puts them in a very vulnerable position to predators, so a giraffe takes a long time to consider its surrounding before finally spreading its long and skinny legs wide and dipping its camel-like face into the water.  What a strange and beautiful beast.

    Speaking of strange and beautiful, I have saved my favorite animal for last.  We saw every animal from Impala to Zebra, Ostrich to Wildebeast, Jackal to Hyena, Warthog to

    Ostrich

    Tortoise and hundreds of birds.  But my favorite always is the intelligent, magnificent, domestic and loving elephant.  And we saw so many and have many memorable moments:

    The elephant throws mud on itself in an effort to keep cool and keep off the insects.  This creates what is known either as a white elephant or a black elephant depending on the mud.  We watched as elephants sprayed the mud and played in the water.  We saw elephants nearly pure white amongst the green leaves, we saw

    My favorite photo of this bull at sunset

    white elephants as the sun set looking just like a white concrete statue.

    The younger male elephants (bachelors) roam together while the older males usually are associated with a matriarchal group, but don’t spend time together.  The matriarchal group is made up of females and babies and “teenagers”.  The male teens leave the group at about 15 years. The female elephants spend all their life together.  Once again the watering hole provided us a spectacular venue to witness

    Elephant parade

    these family ties.

    One evening we arrived at the watering hole to find two males – one much older than the other.  We watched as the younger male began vocalizing as the matriarchal group made its way out of the trees.  The older male took this as his cue to exit right, while the younger male greeted both vocally and physically each female as she came near the water hole.  The younger male, clearly part of this family, then left the females and youngsters to enjoy the water as he went on his way.

    Magnificent

    On another evening at the watering  hole we watched a small fox running across the sand directly towards a giant elephant drinking.  As the fox neared the feet of the elephant he reared up and sprayed water all over the fox – clearly showing who is the boss.  The poor little fox scampered away.

    The morning we were leaving the park, we had already checked out of our room and only gone about 100 yards down the road and Seven spotted elephants in the distance – with a brand

    Our final sighting. Perfect.

    new baby in tow.  We turned immediately around and headed back to the lodge and the watering hole where we watched for twenty minutes as this new mother, another small male and this itsy bitsy newborn, no more that two or three days old, drank.  The baby wanted to wallow around and the mama kept him near to her and out of the mud.  Seven told us this was a young female, younger than usually reproduce, probably about ten years old.  But she seemed to have a good maternal instinct and watching this

    A front row seat

    little group was a joyful and satisfying way to end our time in Etosha.

    This blog was long, but we had such a great experience in Etosha and in Namibia.  I hope you enjoyed reading about it.  I’ll be writing more soon, about the people and places of this unique country,  but in the meantime, the lion sleeps tonight.

     

     

     

     

     

    Travel Around the World

    Some days the Grand Adventure just isn’t grand

    A rough start in Namibia

    Location: Namibia

    It was a tough travel day. Maybe as I’m getting older those days are getting harder?  Long travel days can take a toll, and some days on the Grand Adventure just aren’t Grand.

    No flights direct to Namibia from Morocco. We flew from Casablanca to Doha Qatar. The nine-hour flight was fine. Full plane but 787 is a nice plane so comfortable.  Three hour layover in Doha was fine.  Eleven hour flight from Doha to Windhoek Namibia, also a 787, was strangely empty. So we

    Welcome to Namibia

    could stretch out and sleep. But then Arne started to feel poorly, and then really sick.

    My husband never gets sick – it’s always me.

    Landed in very hot Windhoek and began the six-hour drive on gravel road to our desert lodge.  When we arrived at the beautiful lodge Arne immediately went to bed. Where he stayed for the next 24 hours.

    Meanwhile I go to dinner with our guide (whose name is Seven)and the two other guests who are with us for only the first three days.  We enjoyed

    Our cabin at the beautiful Agama River lodge

    dinner and a lovely native song and dance by the staff.

    Woke up at 5:00am for our tour to the UNESCO site of the Namib Desert dunes but Arne was still sick. So I head off on the tour. About an hour down the road I am hit with a wave of nausea, cold sweat and shakes.  We pull over and I dash behind a bush. Ugh.

    Seven decides to take me a half an hour back to a clinic so I can rest there while they continue with

    At the clinic

    the tour. I felt bad and didn’t want the other guests to miss the tour so this seemed like a good solution. We were lucky to be near this clinic as the next one was hundreds of miles away.

    I was the only person at the clinic where I was given some drugs for stomach virus and tucked into bed where I slept for nearly six hours before being retrieved by Seven and returned to the lodge.  I found Arne still in bed but awake.

    Now that we are feeling better, looking forward to seeing lots of wildlife

    So we did not get to see the famous dunes, the world’s oldest.  And we did not get to celebrate our wedding anniversary. But sometimes shit happens.  We are still both not 100% but are eating again and back on the tour.  Lots more to see in  the next week so happy to be on the mend.

    Mama said there would be days like this.  Welcome to Namibia!

     

    And All the Rest  --  Travel Around the World

    One Year of Travel

    The Grand Adventure Abroad

    One full year.  On the move.  Out of the USA.  Living the Grand Adventure.

    Yes it’s already been a year.  So very much has happened. So many miles we’ve traveled.  And I am not the same.

    Thailand

    58,000 Miles

    Living outside of the United States as an American creates such an amazing opportunity to really understand privilege and gluttony and consumerism.  These words I use not only because I am guilty of these things but it is how much of the rest of the world sees Americans. Not flattering.

    Cambodia

    What is a surprise is when we are able to spend quality time with someone we meet in our travels and change their view of the average American.  This means more to me than most anything else over the past year.

    My eyes have been opened, looking back to the USA and my friends there, I now clearly see two kinds of people – those who embrace this image of Americans and cultivate it greedily, happily and knowingly, and those who acknowledge it but want to change it.

    To each his own.  I know both kinds.  But as for me and my travels, there is only one way to

    Vietnam

    move forward in our travels and that is to do anything and everything to debunk the image.  In my own little way – one human at a time. One country at a time.  This is not what I expected when I started this journey but it is important to me now more than ever.

    23 Countries

    New Zealand

    We get asked the same questions over and over, and always the first question is “what has been your favorite so far?”.  It’s become a little joke.  We keep telling each other we need to come up with an answer to this question.  But we honestly don’t have a favorite.  We have favorite things about every place we have been.  We have things we disliked about many places.  Mostly our favorite thing is the surprises and education we get from staying a long

    Laos

    time in a place and really feeling the culture, the food, the religion, the life of the place.  That by far is our favorite thing.  I’ve changed in my travel goals – loving the days we truly are not tourists, the days we are able to haltingly communicate in someone elses language, the days we blend in.  Not the things I was expecting – but definitely

    New Zealand

    the most meaningful of all our “favorite” things.

    We’ve learned most people are sincerely nice and helpful and interested in telling us about their country.  They are proud and patriotic.  And yet so many countries are oblivious to trash and litter and pollution and it can really be astonishing.  Feral cats and stray dogs another big problem in so many countries – as a visitor you notice these things, all while being acutely aware that many people have very little and live on the street as well.  In some countries people just can’t worry about dogs and

    Portugal

    trash – they are just trying to find their next meal. It would be nice to see governments addressing all these issues.  But, none of these things stop us from visiting these places. It is part of the Grand Adventure.

    I’ve become more aware of the negative impact tourism has on many places and I am uncomfortable contributing to that.  Europe is very different in 2017 than the first time I visited 1988. We are tourists some days, while other days we steer away to less traveled and under the radar destinations.  But in a global world things begin to

    Bulgaria

    feel the same – tchosky souvenirs start to look the same in Bulgaria and Morocco. Locally handcrafted? Not likely.

    We’ve learned to sleep in beds hard and soft and eat every imaginable cuisine.  We’ve learned food is a great introduction to culture and a great conversation starter but also a comfort when we feel a bit homesick.  A good taco makes me happy when I miss our old life.

    6 Mexican Restaurants in 4 countries

    We embrace technology for communicating with our children and parents and for tracking so

    Seychelles

    much of our travel details.  I do miss my kids but speak with them frequently and marvel at their own personal journey each is on.  I think the coming Christmas season I’ll feel their absence the most.

    Speaking of holidays, they go by in a blur.  Other than Christmas last year in Thailand, most places

    Bulgaria

    we have been,holidays have shown little consumerism and celebration.  In the USA we embrace every little holiday from St. Patrick’s Day to Halloween and have our own unique set of holidays that we make a big to do over such as Thanksgiving and Fourth of July.

    19 holidays abroad

    Croatia

    Holiday celebrations in countries we have been in so far focus mostly on family and religion and food and almost not at all on buying things and decorations or gift giving.  I think it used to be this way in America, but our focus is different now.  As for me, I no longer want the gifts to give or receive.  The experiences we are having are the best gift of all.

    Slovenia

    Sometimes a holiday sneaks up on us.  Because we spend much of our time not even knowing what day or month it is.  When it’s 85 degrees in February or 32 degrees in April my brain and body get confused.  Am I above or below the equator?  Is it winter or summer?  What country am I in?  What day is it?  It’s actually a bit scary how often we have to stop and think about these simple questions.

    I’ve learned how little you need in a day-to-day life

    Portugal

    to feel satisfied.  Although I did get pretty tired of the three sets of clothes I wore over and over on the Camino, in general I don’t desire more than what we currently have in our suitcase.  It’s enough.  I have what is comfortable and works for our life. I still have one pair of shoes in the suitcase that I’ve only worn twice in a year – the low black heel.  I keep looking at those thinking I should throw them away.

    Lost luggage once. Found luggage once.

    I’ve learned to live without a clothes dryer and sometimes without a washing machine. No dishwasher, no movies, no American TV.  Don’t miss it. Don’t need it.

    I’ve also changed as far as what I would describe as “beauty ritual”.  Water conservation in most

    Camino

    countries makes me realize I don’t need to shower and wash my hair every day as I used to.  I no longer wear makeup (except on a rare occasion) and my hair is easy and manageable with a washing every few days. And nobody cares.  Really.  One more thing I can let go of for now at least (and I still get so many compliments on the grey).

    3 hair cuts 

    Occasionally I have a nesting urge – when I miss my

    Spain

    house and garden – but it’s rare.  Sometimes I see things I’d like to buy for a future home but I check myself.  Sure the Moroccan rugs are stunning – but, I really don’t know what my next house will look like so I walk away.  Save my money for an experience instead of a thing.

    Our “home” over the past year, and actually over the past 19 months since we closed the door and walked away from our house in Gig Harbor, our home has been wherever we are at the moment.  When people ask where we are from we say the United States, Washington or Seattle, depending on who we are talking to.  And if we meet someone from the Pacific Northwest we say Gig Harbor.  But really none of

    Tunisia

    those places are home.  Where is home?  Right this minute as I write this it’s Morocco.  In a few days it will be Namibia. On Christmas it will be South Africa.  Home is where I am with Arne at this moment.

    27 Airbnb’s 

    63 other lodgings (boats, hotels, apartments, Kiwi Caravan and Albergues includes 41 nights on the Camino)

    I read more than I ever have in my entire life.  I walk more than I ever thought possible. Yoga is a very important part of our lives to keep us going. I challenge myself at almost 58 years old in ways I could never, would never have even considered at 28 or 38.  I see myself in an entirely different way than I did just ten years ago.  I am better, stronger, smarter, happier and more relaxed than at any other time in

    Morocco

    my life.

    This is not a coincidence.  It is entirely by design.

    I want to influence and encourage other people to seek happiness for themselves.  Not my kind of happiness but yours – whatever that is. I ignore those who push negativity towards me – and yes they are out there. Masquerading as “friends” on Facebook while criticizing our life, our message, our politics our choices and our success.  I don’t ask or expect everyone to understand this journey I’m on.  But it’s not about you is it?  It’s about us and it is exactly what we needed and when we needed it.

    Morocco

    62 books read

    20 pounds lost

    2446 miles walked

    And every day of this journey, nearly every minute of it and every mile has been spent with my best friend Arne.  People have asked if we get tired of each other?  Nope.  In fact the opposite.  We find we are the best companions – encouraging and collaborating better now than ever in our entire lives.  It’s both a test and a testament to our relationship and how we have developed it and defined it over the years.  We celebrate our wedding anniversary tomorrow as a matter of fact.  Yes we do, it seems like we have been married forever, and

    Vietnam

    I hope forever is how long we will be together.

    35 years

    And now year two begins.  Can I do this forever?  I doubt it.  Some times it’s exhausting and frustrating.  Those times are infrequent though so I think I can do it for quit a while longer.  So for the next six months we have ten more countries before heading back to the USA for a two and a half month visit.  Then we will finish year two back in Europe and Africa.  We are already toying with ideas for year three.  But it’s a bit too soon.  Let’s not get

    The family last Christmas in Thailand

    ahead of ourselves.  Take it just a few months at a time is best.

    Thank you for sticking with us this past year and continuing to love our blog because the blog is a labor of love for me.  Tomorrow we fly to Namibia for ten days then on to South Africa where we plan to really relax for three weeks as we end 2017. A year for the record books!

    One year. One fabulous year!  Year two here we come!

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Travel Around the World

    Five Days Fes to Marakesh

    Chapter Eleven Comes to an End

    Location: Morocco

    One month in Morocco has been marvelous.  We have seen so very much, and still there is much to see – so we will return one day.  But for now, I am so happy to have experienced this magical and friendly country – especially the past five days as we have traversed the diverse geography from Fes to Marrakesh.

    We hired a guide to show us parts of Morocco we

    With our guide Abdul

    would find difficult to reach on our own – and I am so glad we did.  Our fantastic guide Abdul from Your Morocco Tours was amazing(5 days only $250 per person).  He safely drove us for five days and was funny, interesting and proud of his country and his heritage.

    Have I mentioned how friendly everyone is?  

    Ziz Valley

    With our friends Steve and Sarah we left Fes on a Saturday morning for the long but beautiful drive.  We began to climb into the mountains only a few hours out of Fes.  Eventually we made it to the beautiful Ziz Valley.  Here we began to see the red rocks and reddish pink buildings I had always imagined when I thought of Morocco.  Although the white and blue and green and grey we had seen up to this time was beautiful in its own way – this red color of the desert against the green of

    Desert sunset

    the date palm trees made me feel I was part of a movie set.

    Have I mentioned how great all the roads are?

    After a long day of driving we arrived in the desert, just in time for a spectacular sunset over the Sahara.  It was breathtaking.  I didn’t want it to end.  Awash in orange from sand to sky it was spectacular.

    We then continued a short distance into the dunes to our spectacular hotel called Kasbah Azalay.  Stunning.  How can this be our hotel when we paid so little for this tour?  Not only was it pretty in a very Moroccan way but the service and hospitality was perfect.  We enjoyed a lovely tagine for dinner

    On the camels

    and a good nights sleep.

    A more leisurely day was on hand for Sunday and after breakfast we climbed the dunes and shopped for scarfs in the town of Merzouga.  We then enjoyed a visit to the village of Kamila where we sipped mint tea and listened to the authentic Gnaoua music of the region performed by the ancestors of the original Sudanese slaves who were brought here five hundred years ago.  Their efforts to preserve their culture and music are commendable and we danced and had a great time with them.

    Have I mentioned that this country, more than any other, is where I want to buy things – pottery, rugs, leather? I am restraining myself.

    Late in the afternoon we arrived at the staging area for our camel trek into the desert.  To be completely accurate it’s actually a dromedary trek.  Camels are the beasts with two humps.  The animals with one hump are technically dromedaries, but everyone calls them camels so, hey, whatever!

    On the camel trek with arne

    I wasn’t really sure how this was going to go – was it scary? Painful? Smelly?  Actually, it was a teeny bit painful – but mostly just fun.   The dromedaries were not smelly, they didn’t spit or bite, but once you are sitting up on one, you realize this ain’t no horse.  Wow.  They lumber along and your leg muscles feel the movement, but honestly the next day it was my arms that were sore, from trying to hold on when the camel goes down a hill, or sits down.

    There were ten of us riding and after an hour and half on the camel, including a stop to watch another spectacular Sahara sunset, we arrived at the nomad camp.  We were assigned tents with beds and served tea while we waited for another group of 18 to arrive.  When they did we all had dinner together (tagine) and then a bonfire and music around the fire.  By this time the temperature had plummeted and we put all our clothes on including wool socks and hats and snuggled under the covers for the night.

    Have I mentioned there are more stars in the sky in Morocco?  Billions.

    Wake up at 6am and you immediately feel the pain in your legs (and crotch) and arms.  Yikes.  But back on the camel we go, even before I get a cup of coffee.  Ugh.  I was hoping my camel knew the way to the nearest Starbucks, but instead he took us out of camp into the dunes to watch the sunrise.  Surreal.  And way better than Starbucks.

    Dunes

    After the sunrise and a thousand more photos we were back in the saddle and headed back to town, where we were served a nice breakfast (with plenty of coffee) and had a hot shower before we reconnected with our guide Abdul and began day three of our tour.

    We drove away from the dunes and into the amazing Moroccan red rock canyons and gorges.  A

    Todgha Gorge

    truly surprising area of Morocco I had never even heard of.  The Todgha Gorge was stunning and we enjoyed it late in the afternoon where the 1000 foot walls had sunlight on the tops, but the river was in the shadow of the mountains.  We also visited a remarkable fossil museum where we learned about

    Fossils

    the 500 million year old ocean fossils found in this area and another place where we learned about the ingenious well and aqueduct system the Berber people built to access and save water from the

    Ancient wells

    Atlas mountains 300 years ago.

    Have I mentioned  how diverse the geography is? From ocean to desert to mountains to rivers to lakes.

    Finally we arrived in the Dades Gorge, another amazing marvel of Mother Nature, where our hotel for the night was perched on a cliff overlooking the valley below.  We enjoyed an authentic Moroccan couscous meal and met a nice couple from Seattle and swapped stories before a good nights sleep.

    Up and on our way in the morning we drove to see

    Monkey Feet

    more ancient Kasbahs perched in the Dades Gorge and throughout the red rock region and stopped to view the geological wonder called Monkey’s Feet.  A geology uplift of rock that is unique to this area and impossible to describe.  And yes, it did look a bit like the bottom of a monkey’s foot.

    Midday we visited one of the best preserved Kasbahs in Morocco, the Amerhidil – built-in the 17th century and in remarkable condition.  Given that most of this construction is made from mud and straw bricks, finding well-preserved ones of this age is unusual.  We toured the building, ate a delicious lunch of grilled turkey kebab and then headed on our way to our hotel.

    This night we stayed in another very beautiful boutique hotel with exceptional customer service.  Everywhere we go the people are so kind and helpful and that is the case at Riad Tama.  Big rooms, and a beautiful garden and a lovely restaurant where we enjoyed a a French inspired dinner.

    Have I mentioned a Dar is a house, a Riad means garden but is often used to refer to a hotel or house with a garden?

    Day five- our final day began early at 8:30 with our fabulous guide Abdul as we headed off to the

    Kasar Air Ben Haddou

    famous and well-preserved Kasar of Air Ben Haddou where we spent a couple of hours walking with an incredible guide who had been raised in this village. Morocco has a big film industry and this place is one that is often featured in many films including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Jewel of the Nile.

    Have I mentioned a kasbah is a house of a rich family usually with four towers while a kasar is a fortified village with more than one kasbah?

    Our final day continued with another spectacular

    All together and a wonderful time.

    drive with surprising scenery and geography over the Tizi Tichka Pass to the famous city of Marrakesh – our final stop of our Morocco adventure.  We will be in Marrakesh for three days.

    We loved our tour!  An inspiring experience in a magical place.

    In the future when I think of Morocco I will certainly remember the cities we have visited (Casablanca, Chefchaouen, Tangier, Asilah, Fes and Marrakesh) but I think it will be the rural areas I will remember most fondly.  The desert is such a special place to be, and to be able to sleep there and see the stars at night and ride the camels – unforgettable.  The gorges and red rocks and Kasbahs of old are like something out of a movie set (and some are) but they are real.  And beautiful.  And cherished by the wonderful Moroccan people.

    Five Days from Fes to Marrakesh.  What an experience.  What a lucky girl.  What a life.

    Fabulous!

     

    Travel Around the World

    Magic & Mud at the Moroccan Hammam

    Chapter Eleven Scrub Down

    I’ve had some pretty remarkable “spa” experiences over the years and through the travels of My Fab Fifties Life; a massage by a blind woman in Zanzibar stands out; the public baths in Budapest were fun; a most memorable Korean Spa Experience (read about that one here); soaking in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland on a cold winter night remains a highlight;  the Thai masseuse jumping up and down on my back I won’t soon forget.

    And now, here in memorable Morocco a new experience – the ancient way of the Hammam.

    A Hammam is a cleansing experience, a social event, and a structure.  The ancient buildings were often the only source of hot water for the people of the medina and villages and these places became the social center of life in the old times.  To have a Hammam in your neighborhood was a much sought after addition.  Usually built near to a mosque to share a water source for cleansing.  The Hammams old and new are designed to trap warm air and vent steam, usually through a domed ceiling with small star-shaped holes.

    A Hammam experience is very different from the Korean Spa experience where you “soaked” in tubs of different temperatures.  Instead, in Islam it is considered unclean to “soak” in water.  Instead it involves a lot of pouring water and scrubbing and spraying.  Islamic people are fastidiously clean, washing hands and face three times before praying and praying up to five times a day.

    Today’s Hammams are usually open for women during the day and men in the evening.  Women flock to the Hamman to enjoy the ritual cleanse, relax and get away from their daily duties, and to gossip and socialize with their neighbors.  Just like fasting, a weekly ritual for devout muslims, a weekly visit to the hammam is part of both a religious and social Moroccan life.

    When we were in Asillah I visited my first Hammam, but it was not purely authentic although I enjoyed it immensely.  It was geared more to tourists and was located in a hotel.  Here I spent two hours having a woman scrub and cleanse me and wash my hair.  Following this I also had a massage and a manicure and pedicure.  It was all very lovely and relaxing and my skin felt so fresh and new.

    My second Hammam was a very authentic one in the city of Fes with my friend Sarah.  Fes is Morocco’s second largest city and the world’s largest medina (and oldest – a Unesco Heritage site).  The city of Fes has so many hammams, nearly one in every neighborhood. Even though there are so many they are nearly impossible to find.  The medina is an incredible maze and since few businesses of any kind have signage, you can easily walk right by and not know you just passed a Hammam.

    So we were taken to the Hammam by the housekeeper of our Airbnb.  She took us to the hidden one close to our Riad. She helped show us how it works. She brought all the things we needed and proceeded to create a very magical authentic cultural experience, even though she speaks not a word of English.

    At first it was a bit weird hanging out naked with our housekeeper. But we got over that after we were doused over and over with hot water. While we sat on the tile floor she slathered us down with African black soap, a mixture of several oils and plant extracts that looks like mud. It is solid but greasy and turns to liquid when rubbed on your warm skin. It felt pretty nice. She then used a scrub mitt and scrubbed the hell out of my skin. She was pretty proud of how much skin she sloughed off. Doused. Next she mixed dry henna with water and slathered that all over (I mean ALL over) my body. The green henna smelled exactly like spinach. Doused.

    Next she washed, conditioned and combed out our hair. Doused. I thought at this point we were done. Not.

    Next she lathered a loofah with jasmine soap and scrubbed us down again. Doused.

    Next she poured dry rosebuds in giant buckets of hot water. While the roses soaked she cleansed herself while we relaxed.   She then took the rose-water and doused one final big time. At this point my contact lenses and my inhibitions floated away.

    The room was abuzz with about a dozen other women of all ages including two small children.  The women all helped each other scrub their backs.  There was one very ancient women who seemed to be the hammam madam.  She refilled water buckets and cleaned up, dressed in what looked like board shorts and nothing more.

    This experience although unique, was similar to rituals in other countries. It seems to me everyone except the USA has some kind of ancient communal bathing ritual. If you can relax and let the magic take over, you should try it.  It was fun to experience it so authentically here in Fes.